The Reagan administration's on-again, off-again commitment to transportation deregulation was on again late yesterday when Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole sent a long-delayed proposal to Capitol Hill that would end federal oversight of most trucking.
If the legislation is adopted, the Interstate Commerce Commission's role in trucking would come to an end. Consumer protection and the oversight of household good movers would be transferred to the Federal Trade Commission.
The Transportation Department would retain responsibility for truck safety, an area for which both it and the ICC have received heavy criticism from the General Accounting Office and Congress.
Dole's proposal was released three days after the Senate Commerce Committee began hearings on trucking deregulation. Thomas J. Donahue, president and chief executive officer of the American Trucking Associations, told the committee that "we reject further deregulation at this time" and urged Congress to concentrate on other trucking issues, including the difficulties many carriers are having in obtaining liability insurance.
Dole said the legislation "will complete the job of economically deregulating the interstate trucking inudustry . . . . Now is the time to take the final steps in removing outdated and unneeded restrictions."
Legislation was promised by Reagan in his State of the Union message this year, although a joint Transportation Department-ICC proposal had been with the White House for two years. It was delayed because of Teamster Union opposition to further trucking deregulation when the 1984 Reagan reelection campaign was looking for friends in labor.
Congress partially deregulated trucking in 1980, making it much easier for small operators to enter the business. The results generally were a reduction in rates for many shippers and a cut in salaries for unionized truck drivers. The Justice Department praised the results, calling lower rates "healthy competition," while some estalished truckers said the new pricing freedoms resulted in "predatory pricing."
Dole said that consumers and shippers would benefit from the removal of the remaining economic restrictions. "Motor carriers will be permitted to carry whatever commodities they choose, over whatever routes they choose, at whatever rates are mutually agreeable to them and to their customers," she said.
Studies show that most rural shippers are receiving trucking service that is at least as good as it was before deregulation, Dole said.
The administration's proposal would eliminate:
*All remaining ICC regulation of rates that truckers charge and requirements truckers must meet to enter the business.
*Requirements that truckers file their tariffs (rates) with the ICC.
*Antitrust immunity truckers currently have to meet to set rates in some cases.
*The "common carrier" obligation of truckers, a requirement dating to English Common Law that a trucker holding a license to operate from Point A to Point B is obliged to pick up or deliver to anybody along the way.
The legislation would also prevent states from imposing new regulations on trucking operations previously regulated by the ICC.